There the Mississippi State safety was, trying to finish a standard game-week interview. And there on the front row was Elijah Staley, alternately acting as if hanging on every word, ‘shooting’ the interview with his phone, trying to distract his Bulldog roommate.
Finally Staley couldn’t resist coming up to the podium with his own question. Sort of. “So, last game, I asked you to go get me another pick, and you didn’t. Are you going to get me another pick this game?”
Bryant blinked a bit, before “Only time can tell, God blessing me!”
It’s the Bulldog defense which has been blessed by Bryant’s presence this season. The second-year freshman has stepped in at strong safety and played up to his redshirt reputation.
Through this first varsity season Bryant has compiled 47 tackles with a couple of sacks. Oh, and a pair of interceptions. In fact Bryant’s first picked pass, against Louisiana Tech, was returned 73 yards for a touchdown. Two weekends ago it was Alabama putting a ball up that Bryant came away with.
So Staley was justified in asking the roomie to come back from Arkansas with another. None of those 43 flings were caught by the Bulldog, but he did the rest of the job just fine in State’s thrilling road victory.
Now Bryant and Bulldogs are home, one more time together. And they expect the football to be flying around even more often. Visiting Ole Miss has thrown a SEC-most 424 passes, and made it work very well for them.
Yes, the opportunities for picks should present themselves…except that Bryant already understands something as a young Dog. Looking for interceptions specifically is a fast-track to watching the other team score big completions. Especially this week, Bryant said.
“We’ve just got to have good eye control and play a sound game. Just go out and read our keys and do what we need to do every single play.”
By which Bryant means every single play. That is true of almost all matchups of course, just in different ways. An Alabama pounds and pounds until something or more accurately somebody cracks and it’s six points. As Arkansas showed, every play is a scoring threat and third downs are most dangerous.
Now it’s an Ole Miss offense which looks to go long at every opportunity and has the tools to do so, especially between-the-20s. Yes, Bryant said, there are all sorts of ‘conflict’ plays that show one intention and end up going the opposite. At the same time with lots of study, not to mention the experience he’s gained the hard way in a first SEC season, there are true clues.
“You can tell when they’re running the ball or actually passing the ball. I mean you can read the receivers and releases and how they come off the ball.”
If that sounds confident for a kid, well, Bryant is precocious in many ways. He was going to play lots of snaps this year regardless, but starting status came his way ahead of schedule. And, by a bad break to his teammate. When senior Kendrick Market was lost to injury, the job was Bryant’s.
In his six starts since Bryant has had some mistakes and missed reads. But so have seasoned seniors because that’s the nature of SEC offenses now. It’s interesting how Bryant’s top tackling games have come against the more aggressive offenses, too.
And there isn’t a more aggressive quarterback than the one coming to campus Saturday. That can work both ways, Bryant reminds. Chad Kelly has the arm to get the ball to alllll those outstanding receivers. He also trusts that arm at times a little too much, maybe? Or as Bryant put it, fitting the ball into the wrong place. Or the right place at the wrong time.
“So we’re basically going to go out and read his eyes and go make a play off the ball.” All the while, staying alert to Kelly’s knack for Manziel-like scrambling and scampering for first downs, even touchdowns. There’ve been many a SEC lineman and linebacker left with an arm-full of nothing right when they were sure the quarterback was in their grasp.
“You just contain him,” Bryant sai. “Coach always tells us quarterbacks like to duck out of tackles so you can’t tackle up high. You have go to low and hit him on the thighs. Quarterbacks don’t go anywhere without their legs. That’s what we’ve got to do, tackle him and put him on the ground.”
Along that line, Bryant is forcing himself to stay grounded for this, his first Battle for the Golden Egg.
“I’m playing in it now. I was watching it on TV last year. Now, it’s on.”
Though a Tunica native, Bryant said he did not truly appreciate what a rivalry is until seeing last year’s loss impact the ’14 Bulldogs. How even the fun of a holiday trip to the Orange Bowl did not make up for giving up the Golden Egg in many minds. That, was a rivalry reality check.
“I mean it’s really big for me now,” Bryant said. Just in case, his elders have pushed home the point all week. Maybe all year.
“They told me to take it personally, take every play personally in the game. Play hard every snap of the game, because you never know what is going to happen in that game.”
A game which is back on the home field this year, right where the Bulldogs want to be. Senior Night ceremonies only amplify everything, because players want to bring back the Egg while sending off the seniors successfully. So, “It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,” Bryant said.
“We don’t need a pep talk for this game or nothing, no extra motivation. We just know what we have to go out and do.”